Monday, January 14, 2013

Elevator going up


As it turns out, this bit about a space elevator is an old story.

I found it on CNET's list of 2012 in review: Japan plans snail-paced space elevator by 2050.
The idea is to stretch out 60,000 miles worth of cables.  The upward end has a counterweight and the Earth-side end is anchored at the bottom of an ocean.  An elevator would then move along the cables at 125 mph, carrying up to 30 passengers and perhaps cargo as well, to a space station.  Even at that speed, the journey would still take one week.  A snail's pace indeed.  The space station would have enormous solar panels, helping to generate electricity for the elevator and perhaps even for transmission back down to Earth.

Many have speculated regarding a space elevator.  Arthur C. Clarke did so in his book, The Fountains of Paradise, a book that I admittedly have not read.  The mechanism would indeed be cost efficient means of sending material and personnel into orbit as opposed to doing so with solid fuel rockets.  The rub with the space elevator, however, has always been with material.  What could you build a space elevator out of that would stand up to the rigor and the strain involved?  The Japanese organization called Obayashi, the minds behind the proposed elevator for 2050, have ideas.

Carbon nanotubes. Cylindrical carbon molecules with extraordinary properties of strength and thermal conductivity.  Once together, these nanotubes naturally align with one another into "ropes."  What's more, they create extremely durable materials that do not bend.  Quite important qualities if you're talking about a space elevator.  We've already begun to introduce carbon nanotubes into consumer products, it is logical to project that in the year 2050, we will have even more advanced nanotubes, thus helping bring the elevator to a reality.

Of course, I must start waxing creative when I read a story such as this one.  I think about how nanotechnology may play a role in the space elevator's construction.  Maybe the structure would even be self-repairing by that point in time.  If we're talking about simple, one-way transit, would this be the economical choice for travel to the Moon?  Repeated travel, that is to say?  And what would it be like to be in that elevator car for a week? 

I can see it now.  The space elevator car is stopped midway between Earth and the space station.  The passengers are trapped, held hostage by terrorists.  It's up to one grizzled space marine to go up there and save the day.

Holy schnapsicles, I've just written the next Die Hard.



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